Rev Trevor Gribben, clerk of the general assembly, made the comments ahead of the forthcoming general assembly of the church elders from across the island on June 22-25. Rev Gribben said that one example of what Brandon Lewis is likely to influence “is what the Secretary of State has called health care - what we would call abortion”.
Mr Lewis has said that abortion and the legal position of it in Northern Ireland must be taught in schools in future. “And he has said very clearly that he has been given power not just to direct the department of health - but also the department of education with regard to the curriculum.” But Rev Gribben said Mr Lewis’ assertions had caused some concerns. “There is a significant debate generally in society going on as to whether the ethos of a school should affect the emphasis of what is taught in school,” he said.”The
Secretary of State is very clearly saying for the first time that a Secretary of State has the power and he will move... to overrule things like ethos in particular schools.”He added that this is “an issue of great concern to the Catholic church - who own their own schools” but also to Presbyterians as a transferor church - meaning the denomination passed all its schools into state care in the 1920s and 1930s.
This means that the Presbyterian church still has legal rights to seats on the boards of governors of schools, he added.He noted that the Presbyterian, Methodist and Church of Ireland denominations all had such rights as they all transferred their schools into state care at the same time.
“We transferred an ethos, we transferred buildings and we were given legal assurances that our representatives could either be on boards of governors or education authorities - which is still there. The reason for that is that ethos is important. The ethos of a controlled school is not denominational but it is a warm, caring open Christian ethos and we would argue that that has to be respected. And whatever the Secretary of State seeks to impose on schools - first of all he shouldn’t do - its a devolved matter - but if he does do it, it has done respecting the ethos of the school.”
Northern Ireland Abortion: No assurances that UN sex education won’t be imposed on Catholic schools by Brandon Lewis